Young women share hopes, sorrows in letters to pope

| Tim Johnson | December 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

Fountain pen on an antique handwritten letterA group from St. Mary’s College in Indiana collected a handmade stole, art and letters — “Voices of Young Catholic Women” — and presented them to Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 26.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend accompanied St. Mary’s senior Kristen Millar of Dillsburg, Penn., recent graduate Grace Urankar of San Francisco as well as St. Mary’s President Carol Ann Mooney and her husband, George Efta, to the pope’s general audience to make the presentation.

Students, supported by St. Mary’s Center for Spirituality and the college’s campus ministry, organized a national letter-writing response to Pope Francis’ outreach to young people to encourage the millennial generation — those born between 1981 and 1995 — to write to the pope about their love for Catholic tradition and offer ideas about how the Church might better reach their demographic.

The Center for Spirituality advertised the Voices project in America magazine and sent letters and posters to campus ministry offices at colleges and universities across the U.S.

The women who took part in the project were instructed to send letters, prayers, poetry, art and other forms of creative expression to the center at St. Mary’s in Indiana.

Both Millar and Urankar worked on the Voices project.

Mooney described how she and Millar had reserved seats for those who would be able to speak with Pope Francis.

“We told Pope Francis that the letters contained the joys and hope, grief and sorrows of our young women,” she said. “The interchange was brief but truly moving. He asked us to pray for him; he said that he needs our prayers.”

Millar said, “I am honored to be able to advocate on behalf of the women of the millennial generation and am hopeful that the pope will hear our message. This is not about me, but is truly about the Church and for all women struggling to maintain their Catholic identity in a time when religion is not deemed as necessary. I am here to give a voice.”

Elizabeth Groppe, director of St. Mary’s Center for Spirituality, reported 225 contributions to the project, including 10 students and three alums from St. Mary’s. Fifteen other Catholic-affiliated organizations, including Catholic and secular colleges and universities and Newman Catholic communities from across the country, participated.

There also were some letters from women with no affiliation with any particular school.

One St. Mary’s alumna sent a poem, “My Church, My Home.” She gave voice to the caring relationships and bonds of communion that flow from the worship of God and sharing of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

According to Groppe, another woman had shared that she was sexually abused in high school and developed an eating disorder. In the aftermath of this, she attended a Kairos retreat that renewed her relationship with God and enabled her to discover her leadership abilities.

Through the community of women in the Catholic campus ministry program at her college, she found hope, focus, meaning and direction. She recommended the Catholic Church provide all young women in parishes, including teens, with the opportunity to have an adult woman as a mentor.

Students at St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati handmade a stole as a gift for Pope Francis. Their letters spoke of some of the challenges teenage girls face in the culture today. Those include media images of women that establish false ideals of beauty that are impossible to meet; degrading language about women in the lyrics of popular music; degrading and objectifying images of women in advertising, films and other media; assumptions that girls are inferior to boys; and social pressures related to drinking, sex and social media.

In this context, one wrote, it is “difficult for me to accept myself as God’s good creation made in God’s divine image and likeness.” Some wrote about the lack of confidence, depression and eating disorders that many teenage girls experience. They also made recommendations for ways in which the Catholic community can work to foster a culture of respect for women in the United States.

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Category: Focus on Faith